One of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in Nashville tried to guide the current generation of activists while visiting Fisk University on Thursday. Diane Nash returned to her alma mater to speak to students about organizing nonviolently.
Nash grew up in Chicago, where there was segregation. But when she moved to Nashville, she realized how blatant racism could be, she said.
"Confronting those segregation signs was a tremendous motivator," she said. "It was insulting and humiliating."
As part of her resulting activism, she helped organize a series of sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville, which successfully integrated some downtown restaurants. Students who worked with her had to balance activism with school work.
"We'd meet all evening," she said. "If we didn't get finished what we had to do — people had 8 o'clock classes, so we'd call a meeting for 6 a.m."
Nash's visit to Fisk — one of only a couple of visits since she attended the university — coincides with the rise of a new generation of African American activists. Nash said she supports the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as their right to come up with their own set of values. (The older generation tried to tell young Civil Rights leaders what to do, she said, "and we figured if they were so smart they would have solved the problems.")
But throughout her speech at Fisk's convocation ceremony, she repeatedly championed her generation's commitment to nonviolent protests.
"People are never the enemy," she said. "Unjust political systems are the enemy. Unjust economic systems are the enemy."
Talking to reporters afterward, Nash said she hopes modern activists embrace that philosophy. "I think people need to get really clear on their objectives. In the '60s, we were serious about not allowing any violence because that puts everybody in danger."
Nash said historically black colleges like Fisk should also be supportive: Without HBCUs in the 1960s, she believes there wouldn't have been a Civil Rights movement.